Mrs. Ramsay, Larger Than Life


9/28/98


College 10


Mrs. Ramsay is a mother in every fiber of her being. Motherhood is her occupation, her personal life, her hobby and her passion. And in motherhood, Mrs. Ramsay is an expert. And although motherhood is not frequently valued as a prestigious, viable career choice, people who knew Mrs. Ramsay recognized her uncanny talent for it, even to go as far as to say that she made it into an art form.


In fact, almost everyone who knew Mrs. Ramsay absolutely adored her. The way she smoothly controlled the household, was always extremely hospitable, endlessly attentive to her husband, beautiful, too, and, of course, especially, her expert care of her children. Here Mrs. Ramsay was perfection, an angel, and a goddess. In nearly every character’s account of admiration for her throughout the novel, no matter how many times the character admires her, Mrs. Ramsay’s majesty is related to her identity as a mother.


It takes a very discerning reader to actually find any aspect of Mrs. Ramsay’s character that is not related to her identity as a mother, but if one looks carefully it is definitely in there. Virginia Woolf wrote it in, intentionally I think, to illustrate a point. Her point, or at least one of them, is that when a woman assumes the role of a mother she is seen as larger than life, and not just through the eyes of her children. The Mother is a powerful figure, a symbol that everyone can relate to whether they’ve had a good or bad one, or none at all; the influence is undeniable. The powerful role that a mother fills is often translated, in others’ perception of the woman, into a powerful or outstanding character of the woman herself, which may or may not be fitting, but is not a judgment necessarily based on the woman’s actual character attributes and defects.


As the very first, and all-powerful figure in a new human being’s life, the mother symbolizes to the infant every thing that the world contains. In early infancy babies cannot distinguish between self and mother; when this important cognitive development takes place in a child’s life around the age of two, the mother’s status in the infant’s mind shifts from that of everything-the-world-contains to God/ess. It is my belief that people do not grasp a full understanding of their mothers as mere mortals until they reach adulthood and become autonomous. Thus, from infancy to young adulthood, the critical time period in which people are developing their personalities, the mother is distorted into a giant.


By the time an individual has reached young adulthood, although they may have arrived at somewhat of an understanding of their own mother as a real human being, their symbolic association of mothers with giants still has a firm grip in their subconscious minds. Whether the mother is viewed subconsciously as a good giant or a bad giant depend on the individual’s childhood experience. This is not to say that one person’s terrible childhood equates to that person hating women who are mothers, or another person’s terrific childhood accounting for that person’s idolizing mothers, but rather that mothers’ larger-than-life symbolism tends to create polar extremes in viewpoints of them


In one of Charles Tansley’s accounts of admiration for Mrs. Ramsay, the scene in which Charles and Mrs. Ramsay walk into town to run some errands, they happen upon a man posting an advertisement for the circus. Mrs. Ramsay is the type of mother (and in the economic position) who brings her children to the circus. Of course she does this; she assumes everyone does. But Charles’ childhood was not like that. Charles then feels rather rattled at the idea of all that Mrs. Ramsay does for her children, that he was deprived of as a child. He feels “...[something] that excited him and disturbed him for reasons he could not give.” (p.11) And then, his brain makes the connection, she is the most beautiful person he has ever seen. Her superior, angelic, attentive mothering has led him to assign the judgment, not, “She is the best mother I have ever met,” but, she is the most beautiful person he has ever seen. This judgment